As the mother of The Slits vocalist Ari Up, and the wife of John Lydon, Nora Forster, holds a unique place in Punk’s family history.
Famously publicity shy, she’s something of an enigma to write about, and even here on the all-knowing web there is very little first hand information to draw from. However, by piecing together what we do know, along with quotes from both Ari and John, we can start to unravel Nora’s role in the fledgling Punk era.
Born into a wealthy German newspaper family, Nora was involved in promoting major rock groups in her native Germany, even finding time to date a pre-disco Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, before moving to London in the early 1970s.
Ari described their move to London, in the Telegraph by saying,
“In Munich, the police were knocking at the door every night because of the loud acid parties,” she said. “She [my mother] was fed up with it. You have to go to London to live that lifestyle.”
By the mid 1970s, Nora was again working as a promoter, but this time within the London music scene, and had turned her romantic attentions to the celebrated session guitarist and producer Chris Spedding. By May 1976 Chris had started work on the first Sex Pistols demos, and so via Chris, Nora was introduced to the people and the scene, that both herself and her daughter were about to become a part of, albeit for very different reasons.
Ari in Trebuchet magazine 2004
“So my Mom got introduced to the Pistols by none other but Chris. He went and saw the Pistols, and then he came back to my mom and said, “You’ve got to see this band. You’ve got to know about this band.” So in a funny way I go introduced to the Pistols and to the whole punk scene just because of Chris”.
“What I found interesting is that he [Chris] was always cutting edge, he kept up with the times, the modern music, all the modern shit that was going on at the time. Roxy Music, a huge fan of Roxy Music [of which he later became a member]. Him and my mother. He looked like Bryan Ferry for a while, and my mom definitely looked like all the [Roxy Music album cover] chicks!”
When Nora and Chris’ relationship came to an end, Nora’s home became something of a refuge to London’s emerging punk musicians, including members of the Pistols and The Clash, with Joe Strummer even giving Ari her first guitar lessons.
“He was like a guiding star, he was like a brother to me. He never tried to come on to me, but was very protective and natural.” and “The Clash and the Pistols all became extended family to me. They were all like my brothers”.
Within a year, and against the backdrop of Punk Rock at full tilt, Nora and John would become a couple. John Lydon talks about their first meeting (from The Guardian)…
‘Now there’s a saucy girl,’ he grins. ‘It’s love, you know. I’ve always loved that woman. And she knows it. When we met we didn’t expect to get on. We’d both been told the other was a bad ‘un. But blimey. Sparks flew. It was instant attraction. And that’s never gone. I never expected to feel like that. I never thought I was in any way attractive. Or anyone’s idea of a good date”.
John and Nora now live in a beach front suburb of Los Angeles, and have been married since 1978 when John also became Ari’s step-father. With a 15 year age gap, and their radically different backgrounds, to some their relationship seemed like an unlikely combination, and doomed to burn-out, but 40 years later they are still together, and, since 2010 have been the guardians of Ari’s twin boys.
“I can’t think of a better woman on God’s earth than Nora. If we ceased to function as a couple tomorrow there would be no one else. Not ever. I mean it.’
Ari died on October 20th, 2010.